VOICES CONCERN

Tawas Area Federation of Teachers Vice President Jason Woelke comments on the fifth grade overload at Clara Bolen Elementary School.

TAWAS CITY – A group of concerned parents, carrying copies of letters written by other concerned parents who could not attend in person, pleaded with the Tawas Area School (TAS) Board of Education to immediately hire another teacher to deal with the current fifth grade overload situation. 

Their statements were heard during the public comments segment of the TAS Board meeting held on Feb. 10.

TAS Superintendent John Klinger announced at the Jan. 13 meeting that an influx of students had raised total fifth grade enrollment in the district to 92. This total has been divided into three sections, resulting in class sizes during five of the seven hours per day above 30 students. 

Klinger said that the district has been using educational assistants to support teachers with the overload, but that it was “not a perfect solution.” The matter was referred at that time to the personnel committee for consideration.

At the Feb. 10 meeting, Tawas Area Federation of Teachers (TAFT) Vice President Jason Woelke also commented that the district should “address (the matter) more aggressively,” and “put people in the right positions” to resolve the overload situation. 

Spanish teacher Anna Dalman, noting that she is also the parent of third- and fifth-grade students at Tawas, encouraged action to address the students’ immediate needs, and urged the board to “find money (in the budget) to fix the problem now.”

East Tawas resident, business owner, and mother of four including a fifth-grader, Sheila Malewska delivered letters from several other parents to the board. The letters all petitioned the board to hire another teacher as soon as possible, and cited educational progress issues faced by their children as a result of the current overload. Malewska called for “the best and fastest ‘band-aid’ fix.”

Klinger responded, explaining that the personnel committee met on Jan. 27 to discuss the current overload, listened to parents and teachers, and “exhausted hours upon hours” looking at the issue “from many different angles.” He said that bringing in a new teacher in the middle of the school year would be “extremely disruptive to the educational process,” that “cohorts would be undone,” and that there would be a “negative impact on other programs.” 

Continuing to use educational assistants to support the teachers, Klinger said, is the least disruptive option at this time. The board approved Klinger’s recommendation by a 7-0 vote.

At the same meeting, Mary Stanfill, school/community liaison officer for Iosco Regional Educational Service Agency (IRESA), provided information for teachers and staff about how to support students experiencing homelessness. She cited the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, which protects the educational rights of homeless children, defined as any student who lacks a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”

Stanfill noted that Tawas Area Schools, on average, educates 100 homeless students per year, and that her IRESA district has around 400.

One of the provisions of the McKinney-Vento Act requires each school district to have a homeless liaison. Stanfill announced that Tawas Area Middle School Assistant Principal Chris Bolen has earned certification as district liaison for TAS, and presented Bolen with a certificate of completion at the meeting.